Climate Change Minister Caves Under Biofuels Pressure

Those that read our recent Algae Biofuels Making Headway post will have noted my mention, and tentative praise, of David Parker, Minister in charge of climate concerns for New Zealand. He had delayed the formalising of proposed new biofuels regulations that would, as has happened in the U.S. and Europe, legislate biofuel quotas into New Zealand fuels. The delay was due to the need to further consider the sustainability of biofuels.

Climate Change Minister David Parker said on Friday the government may delay for several months the start date of legislation that will mean oil companies have to start selling biofuel blends from July this year.

Major concerns have arisen among political parties after submitters to the Select Committee hearing the Biofuels Bill this month pointed out that some biofuels produced internationally were not sustainable or environmentally sound. -- Scoop

Unfortunately it turns out that my wishful thinking was premature, and the political cynicism I try hard to keep in check seems to be, yet again, justified. Less than a week after the above Scoop story, the New Zealand Herald shares David Parker's new 'logic':
Energy Minister David Parker believes New Zealanders may have to accept initial volumes of biofuels from "unsustainable" sources for the sake of the long-term fight against climate change.

... "In the early years the percentage of biofuels is not a huge amount so you could start without that being tied down completely and there would be a small proportion which might come from unsustainable sources," the minister told the Herald. -- NZ Herald

I have three issues with this reasoning.
  1. With the exception of biodiesel made from animal and used chip fat (no good for petrol engines), I have yet to discover any biofuels in current production that come from sustainable sources. If only a "small proportion" of biofuels are to come from unsustainable sources, then please tell me where the majority are coming from -- as it is a precious secret that should be shared.
  2. The financing of unsustainable biofuels sources through legislating their use forces consumers to finance the infrastructure-building for these industries -- in effect adding further obstacles for a future transition away from these fuel sources. For example, consider the mushroom growth of ethanol plants in the U.S. -- report after report (see 'Further Reading' section below) has come out confirming that crop-based biofuels are not only unsustainable, but are in many cases more detrimental to the environment that using fossil fuels, yet with ethanol infrastructure now in place, and construction underway for more yet, how on earth do we propose to have production stopped, and plants dismantled? Do we believe those inside the ethanol industry will willingly pack up and go home? If Mr. Parker is going to cave to industry influences today, why should it be any different tomorrow? Additionally, CO2-absorbing rainforests and grasslands that are destroyed to provide space to grow fuel-crops cannot be replaced.
  3. In the Herald article above, Mr. Parker says that by using biofuels, we are sending "a signal" to the oil companies, a signal that they need to move away from unsustainable sources. But what signal, exactly, would New Zealand be sending? It could potentially incentivise the oil industry to diversify into crop-based biofuels, adding themselves to the growing list of companies, like ADM, Monsanto, and others that are making record profits from straining our beleaguered topsoils via the further entrenching of monocrop farming systems (with all the intensive water use and fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertiliser inputs that go with it).
Can we not see the price of food skyrocketing, threatening millions with starvation, so that rich countries can drive, come hell or high water? Can't we see palm plantations displacing tropical rainforests, and the Amazon getting carved up to provide the land needed to continue meat production as feedstock grains in other countries are diverted from feeding people and livestock to feeding vehicles?

Once again, how about putting aside industry influences, and looking at the facts? Why not legislate only biofuels that are proven to aid in the fight against climate change? Exchanging a bad fuel source for one that's no better, or worse, doesn't make sense in the short, middle, or long term. Yes, the world's governments feel the need to be seen to be doing something about climate change -- but being seen to be doing something, and actually doing something of merit, are often two entirely different things. Whilst public perception may cause some to congratulate Mr. Parker for moving towards biofuels, scientific research -- or even just a half-decent understanding of agricultural and economic systems -- condemns him instead.


Further Reading:

Add a comment
  • to get your picture next to your comment (not a member yet?).
  • Posted on April 8, 2008. Listed in:

    See other articles written by Craig »

    Pledge to do these related actions

    Give Coal The Boot, 40°

    Greenpeace are asking people to help give coal the boot once and for all: "Burning ...

    Convert Diesel Garbage Trucks to CNG, LNG and Hydrogen Fuels, 11°

    In the United States approximately 175,000 refuse trucks operate and burn approximately 1.2 billion gallons ...

    Follow these related projects

    Baltimore, United States

    Featured Companies & Orgs